What does draft mountain caribou conservation agreement mean for Revelstoke?

A look at the details of the new Canada-British Columbia Section 11 draft agreement as they pertain to Revelstoke

File photo: Caribou cows are released into a maternity pen near Lake Revelstoke north Revelstoke in 2014. Photo: Rob Buchanan/Revelstoke Caribou Rearing in the Wild

The provincial government unveiled its draft Canada British Columbia Conservation Agreement on Mar. 21 and is accepting feedback on the proposed plan to conserve and recover caribou until April 26.

The B.C. government revealed plans in a teleconference on Thursday and has posted documentation on the plan on its engagement website.

At the Mar. 21 announcement, two separate but related plans were presented. The first was a draft “partnership agreement” between B.C., Canada, the West Moberly First Nations and the Saulteau First Nations. That plan covers an area in the northeast of B.C. and doesn’t have effect in the Revelstoke area.

The second plan is the draft “Section 11” agreement, an agreement between the provincial and federal governments to conserve and recover mountain caribou.

The so-called Section 11 agreement is named after a section in the federal Species at Risk Act (SARA); it allows the federal government to enter into partnerships on species recovery plans.

That Section 11 agreement covers all areas in B.C. where caribou are present, including the Revelstoke area.

What does the draft plan say?

A map shoing Southern Mountain Caribou Populations in B.C. and Scope of Draft Section 11 and Draft Partnership Agreement. Image: B.C. government image

The plan does not contain many specifics that those in various industries that rely on the backcountry will be looking for, such as detailed mapping, changes to snowmobile closure areas, changes to allowable forestry cuts or mapping detail changes to caribou core and matrix habitats.

Instead, the document outlines the agreement between the federal and provincial governments, and, in general, outlines plans, goals and actions for the coming years.

A ministry spokesperson said that development of herd plans would happen after the agreement was in place, and that would happen at the herd-plan level on a “herd-by-herd” basis.

Read the draft agreement embedded here:

Draft Section 11 Bilateral Conservation Agreement by Revelstoke Mountaineer on Scribd

Potential snowmobile closure areas to be discussed later

A sledder on Frisby Ridge. Photo: Revelstoke Snowmobile Club

The plan does not contain specific snowmobile closures. In the conference, Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development Minister Doug Donaldson said that there would be a “specific effort on snowmobile access and concerns” that would follow the initial general consultation period. “We are launching the engagement process for snowmobile management,” he said.

The B.C. government plans to first conduct a consultation on the Section 11 agreement, then engage in specific snowmobile-related discussions after the comment period is complete. The plan states that snowmobile consultations will commence in May, and says the government will be hiring a “neutral, third-party facilitator” to work on the snowmobile engagement process.

Minister acknowledges ‘implications’ for resource extraction

File photo: A skidder at work on the Revelstoke Community Forest Corporation tree farm. Photo: Bryce Borlick

In response to a question from the Mountaineer, minister Donaldson said that the plan would have an impact on resource extraction.

“The whole purpose of the draft agreements is to ensure that we have caribou conservation and then caribou recovery and are also able to undertake natural-resource activities on the land base,” Donaldson said. “Obviously, there will be implications to those resource extraction activities, and that’s why we are pursuing in a very firm way that the federal government must provide adequate financial compensation. We are in the situation that we are in because this overall approach was ignored by the previous government, so we have to address these issues as quickly as possible.”

The plan doesn’t, however, contain a level of detail on what those impacts might be at the local level.

The minister also committed to holding consultations in affected rural communities about the draft plan.

“Everything we discuss is going to be well presented and well thought out at the public engagement tables,” Donaldson said.

For now, the Section 11 draft agreement and supporting documents are available on the B.C. government’s engagement page. Donaldson said ministry staff could also provide supplementary information.

“If there [are] requests from specific communities in the public engagement sessions about information that’s missing, we’ll do our best to provide that information,” Donaldson said. “We are a government that values public feedback, especially from communities, especially rural communities, and so you’ve got my commitment that information will be supplied so that people can provide the best feedback possible.”

Concerns remain about ‘unilateral’ federal action

Federal Minister of Environment and Climate Change Catherine McKenna.

By entering into the Section 11 agreement under SARA, the B.C. government is trying to prevent unilateral action by the federal government.

The federal government has received multiple public requests from environmental groups for an “emergency order” under Section 80 of the SARA act. In May of 2018, Catherine McKenna, the federal Minister of Environment and Climate Change, concluded that the Southern Mountain Caribou are facing an “imminent threat” to their recovery.

Under SARA, this means that McKenna must make a recommendation for an emergency order to the federal cabinet.

The B.C. government is hoping the Section 11 agreement can be considered by the federal cabinet when deciding whether to make an emergency order.

In a background document, the B.C. government states the Section 11 agreement, “could reduce potential for a federal protection order that considers caribou habitat needs only and not communities.”

Although the provincial and federal governments have come to this draft agreement, it still needs to be ratified by both levels of government. It’s unclear if the Section 11 agreement will be adequate to satisfy the federal government’s requirements.

Specific actions in the Revelstoke area

File photo: Caribou in a maternity pen north of Revelstoke. Photo: Revelstoke Caribou Rearing in the Wild

The Section 11 agreement document is fairly high level, outlining targets, goals and general plans. It doesn’t contain a high level of detail, such as mapping or detailed numbers. There are, however, several items specific to the Revelstoke area, or of particular interest to the area. It calls for:

-re-evaluation of park-use agreements that allow heliskiing companies to use provincial parks.

-a caribou habitat analysis that could change the boundaries of existing “core” and “matrix” caribou habitat.

-rehabilitation of forest roads in the Big Mouth area north of Revelstoke near to the Columbia North herd. This means closing old logging roads and rehabilitating them back into forest. The plan calls for 6.7 kilometres of roadways to be closed, and the rehabilitation of another 5 kilometres of other terrain. Predators such as wolves use the roadways to access caribou habitat.

-continuing predator management including killing wolves using an aerial program.

-collaring moose to track their numbers. The plan also calls for considering “primary prey” management of moose and other ungulates. Logging creates habitat favoured by moose and deer, leading to an increase in their numbers, which in turn supports more predators, such as wolves. The higher number of predators increases “by-catch” of caribou.

-evaluation of maternity penning projects, such as the one operated by the Revelstoke Caribou Rearing in the Wild society on the west shore of Lake Revelstoke, for potential “enhancement” and “development.”

-a potential captive breeding program that would see calves bred in captivity for release in the wild.

What’s next?

The B.C. government has committed to two rounds of consultation. The first is on the Section 11 plan itself prior to the April 26 deadline. In the Mar. 21 media conference, the government didn’t have details on if or when a meeting would be held in Revelstoke.

After that, the plan calls for herd-by-herd planning, which also would have a local consultation process, although the process for that is yet to be defined.

The government also outlined plans for a snowmobile-specific consultation process, the dates of which are also to be announced. It is expected to start in May.

Once the engagement process is complete, the plan will be revised into a final agreement. Both the federal and provincial cabinets will need to decide whether to sign the agreement. The decision with the biggest implications for Revelstoke will likely be at the federal cabinet level.

To provide feedback on the plan, see the provincial government’s engagement page.